CUYAHOGA FALLS: They met on the Towpath Trail in Peninsula nearly 13 years ago and married six months later.
On Wednesday, Robert and Valerie Bryan stood before Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Donald L. Robart to renew the promises they first made Jan. 19, 2001.
“You did not know where life would take you,” Robart told the couple.
The Bryans were one of 25 couples who registered to be married or to renew their vows as part of Bicentennial Wedding Day, the last event of the city’s yearlong bicentennial celebration.
The date — 12-12-2012 — was chosen because of the rarity of the month, day and year being the same number.
“It will be 89 years before it happens again,” Robart said.
The mayor estimated he has performed about 2,000 weddings since he took office, calling it the part of his job he enjoys the most.
Ceremonies were scheduled 10 minutes apart in a Natatorium conference room decorated for the day with a metal arch, white poinsettias and a white aisle runner. Next door, another conference room was decorated for a reception, with a disc jockey, dance floor and linen-covered tables.
There was wedding cake and alcohol-free champagne. Each couple also received a pair of cupcakes and a special gift to take home.
The newly- and not-so-newlyweds posed for pictures in front of a background of snowflakes and the bicentennial logo. Dress ranged from formal to comfortable. Family and friends accompanied many of the couples.
The Bryans’ was the first ceremony — by default. The 4 p.m. wedding was a no-show.
Robert Bryan was dressed in a gray sweater and khaki pants and used a cane to help keep his balance. Valerie wore a cerulean blouse and black dress pants. They came alone.
They held hands as Robart recited the vows, first to Robert, who repeated them softly to his bride,
“... for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health ... ”
Valerie’s eyes filled with tears.
“Until death do us part,” he finished.
Robart turned to Valerie. “Repeat after me,” he said.
Valerie dabbed her eyes and said, “I’ll try.”
The mayor leaned forward and kissed her head before reciting the promises Valerie would make again to Robert.
As he reached “until death do us part,” Robart and the Bryans were all fighting back tears.
“Even after death,” Valerie said.
Renewing their vows was Robert Bryan’s idea.
“I decided to do it to show my love for her — for us,” he said.
In November, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His prognosis is not good.
“I may not be here for our anniversary,” Robert said.
Both were divorced when they met in a parking lot near the Winking Lizard after a bike ride. She spoke first.
He loved her smile. She said he made her laugh.
“He saved me,” Valerie said.
The Bryans said they’ve never had a fight.
“He is the kindest, sweetest, most fun man I’ve ever known,” Valerie said. “We’ve been happy, happy, happy.”
The secret to their happy marriage?
“We get up in the morning and have a talk,” Robert said. “At night, we sit down at the table and have dinner and talk the day over.”
Valerie said they’ve done a lot of biking, camping, hiking and laughing.
“We married in our 40s and knew we didn’t have 50 years together ahead of us,” she said. “We tried to put a lot into the last 12 years.”
As she spoke, Robert’s lips began to tremble. Valerie put her hand atop his.
“I wish in another life we would have done this and had 20 more years to be married,” Valerie said. “But we’re not looking at it like that.”
Gina Mace can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.